The Orioles' Dave Johnson is on the verge of throwing up his hands in attempts to analyze his own pitching.
In and out of the rotation all season, Johnson was in last night after Jose Mesa went on the 15-day disabled list with an inflamed right elbow. But after he was charged with the 5-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays and yielded five runs and nine hits in five-plus innings, the question was raised anew:
Is Johnson out again?
No. That comes from manager John Oates. Pencil in Johnson as the starter Sunday against the Twins in Minnesota. Mesa will not be ready to rejoin the rotation.
"It's logical that he'd make his next start," Oates said.
The logic is based not so much on last night's results -- seven singles, a double and Devon White's 12th home run -- but on the way he threw. Oates and Johnson agree on that.
"Best I've thrown all year," Johnson said. "But I gave up five runs. I can't figure it out. I'm tired of trying to figure."
Oates: "He threw extremely well the first three innings. He threw some outstanding sinkers, a pitch he was having trouble with bTC early in the year. The chart says he gave up five runs, but he didn't throw that poorly. If Leo makes that play and turns it into a double play, it changes the complexion of the inning."
The play third baseman Leo Gomez didn't make was in the fourth inning. After the Blue Jays opened the inning with three straight singles, one run was in when Candy Maldonado's grounder scooted under Gomez's glove for another single and another run.
The next batter, Kelly Gruber, fouled out. But the next, Rance Mulliniks, singled home the inning's third run. Toronto had three runs when it might have had only one if Gomez had turned a double play.
"It wasn't a routine play," Oates said, "but it was makeable."
The upshot was that Johnson absorbed the defeat, leaving his record at 4-5. He is puzzled.
"If I told you I threw good, you'd laugh at me," the pride of Middle River said. "If I told you I threw bad, I'd laugh at myself."
Johnson started the season in the rotation, then went to the bullpen and from there to the disabled list for over two months.
Since his return July 26, he has made nine appearances, including six starts. He is, incredibly, the Orioles' leading winner this month at 3-2 despite an untidy earned-run average of 8.02 in 20 2/3 innings.
"I had command this time," Johnson said, shaking his head. "The ball moved well and was working for me. They hit some good pitches. Things caved in. I've got to tip my cap to them."
Oates made it clear we have not seen the last of Dave Johnson. He remembers the "four outstanding innings" the 31-year-old righthander gave the club last week in Texas and he'll remember the way he threw last night.
"Best I've thrown all year," Johnson said again. "Next time I'll try to do the same thing."
Jimmy Key recorded the 100th win of his career and Tom Henke got his 30th save of the season last night. Nice round numbers, to be sure, but any kind of win is important to the Blue Jays at the moment.
The victory over the Orioles was only the seventh in the last 18 games for the suddenly pressed co-division leaders.
"I wasn't thinking about it [his 100th], it was going to come eventually," said Key. "We need to win games, that's first and foremost on my mind. We've got Detroit that we can't shake, and Boston's right there -- we just need to win games."
For the sixth time in club history and third year in a row, the Orioles have gone over the two-million mark in attendance. And they did it on the 62nd date, matching the record pace of the 1989 season.
Last night's crowd of 28,063 brought the season count to 2,014,332.